Patient Engagement, Health IT, Telemedicine

Online scheduling, virtual visits emerge as key criteria for selecting providers

Healthcare consumers want the same level of ease when scheduling a health check-up as they have when booking an Uber, and younger generations of Americans are increasingly hinging their care selection preferences on facilities that offer a user-friendly digital front door, a new report shows.

Photo: nicescene, Getty Images

As consumers become accustomed to shopping online via their smartphones and calling Ubers with the click of a button, the expectation that healthcare organizations will provide the same level of ease and convenience as Amazon is growing. A new report, from patient access solutions provider Kyruus found that 43% of healthcare consumers ranked online scheduling as very or extremely important, and another 42% ranked virtual visits the same. Among millennials and Gen Xers, 60% ranked online scheduling as very/extremely important. Similarly, more than half of the survey respondents from those generations ranked virtual visits as very/extremely important.

Overall, 43% preferred online scheduling to calling to make an appointment, up from 32% who reported the same in Kyruus’ 2019 report. Among millennials, the preference is particularly stark, with about 35% saying last year that they preferred online scheduling versus 63% who said the same this year. The preference for online scheduling increased from 40% in 2019 among Gen Xers to 52% in 2020. For both millennials and Gen Xers, preference for online scheduling surpassed scheduling via the phone in 2020 versus 2019.

Photo credit: Kyruus

Millennials and Gen Xers are also more likely than Baby Boomers to switch providers to be able to access virtual care, with 49% of millennials and 53% of Gen Xers reporting they’d make the switch.

The report is based on a survey of 1,000 healthcare consumers conducted in August. This is the fourth edition of the annual report. While new criteria like the ability for online scheduling is gaining ground among consumers across the board, the top criteria for selecting a provider have not changed much from previous iterations of the report, with provider selection still hinging largely on clinical expertise and whether they accept the patient’s insurance.

Photo credit: Kyruus

While the top criteria remains unchanged, it’s important to acknowledge how far telemedicine has come. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual visits shot up, with volumes peaking in the early months of the crisis. An August report from EHR giant Epic shows that at its peak in mid-April, telehealth visits comprised 69% of total visits. Though it has levelled off since then, telehealth visits are still higher this year as compared to before the pandemic, making up about 21% of total visits by mid-July.

The internet remains consumers’ top source for gathering information on providers, the Kyruus report shows. About 57% of respondents said they’d use the internet for research, as compared to 38% who said they’d gather provider information from family or friends and 37% who depended on healthcare professionals.

This finding is in line with prior Kyruus reports, but this year’s report also found that there was a change in search terms that people were using. About one-fifth of respondents said they searched for “virtual care” or “telehealth visit.” Among millennials and Gen Xers, this trend was more pronounced, with 26% of the former and 30% of the latter using those search terms. But the main way consumers searched for providers remained location-based phrases like “doctor near me.”

The survey also shows a jump in consumers’ reliance on health systems’ websites. About 45% of online consumers are now using health system websites to research providers and services, up from 38% in 2017. Resources consumers find most useful on those websites include patient reviews and the insurances a provider accepts.

More than half of the consumers (52%) interacted with a virtual assistant on a health system website, and 72% found it helpful in finding a provider or service. About 40% of millennials and Gen Xers said they would like to see virtual assistants on health system websites.

“The trends we saw over the first three years of this survey pointed clearly to the rising need for healthcare organizations to empower consumers with both richer information about their care options and the ability to schedule in the way that works best for them,” said Dr. Graham Gardner, CEO of Kyruus, in a news release. “The 2020 findings show that the pandemic has only accelerated consumer demand for easier access and organizations will need to evolve their offerings to capitalize on their ability to deliver a connected consumer access experience across channels.”

Photo credit: nicescene, Getty Images and Kyruus